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Wednesday, December 26, 2007


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When this is read with the knowledge of the number of hits Xark receives for santa p*rn, the idea of private anonymous, desire becomes somewhat sinister. Likely I jump to that conclusion due to being in a very protective phase of my life.

Apparently I have always been fascinated by apocalyptic scenarios. Your thoughts reminded me of an argument I had with a teacher when I was in fourth or fifth grade. I was trying to explain to her, probably not very well, that I could see more than one kind of knowledge. There was higher learning and then survival skills. I was trying to convey the idea that everyone should know at least have rudimentary knowledge of growing food, making shelter, etc.

She told me I was being absolutely ridiculous when I tried to explain the value of that knowledge. Today I look around and see individuals quite helpless as a whole. We have people and machines to do everything for us. The Construct will choose what we know.

The idea of consuming only what is chosen for me is unsettling. I understand the Paradox of Choice, and am staggered by the amount of knowledge that I'll never be able to learn. I like the illusion of controlling my filters.


Yes, and I've come to understand that growing up "country" -- at least in the sense of having some familiarity with making, fixing and growing things -- is a real advantage no matter where you live and what you do as an adult. Agreed.

And maybe that's why I also view The Construct in some ways as just another tool. I might prefer an economy in which farmers could be successful using mule-drawn plows and ox-team combines, but these tools just don't scale to the 21st century economy. Same with our information tools.

So I don't see The Construct so much as "choosing for me" as I see it as an extension of myself. A pair of pliers extends the ability of my fingers to grasp physical things. An intelligent agent alertly prowling information streams extends my ability to grasp intangible things.

A tool is neither good nor bad. The intention behind the tool is the issue. And tools can be turned against us if we don't mind them and understand them.

Honestly, my biggest concern right now is the fracturing of culture, which I am beginning to suspect we're already witnessing.


Just talking with Janet and it occurred to me: The original Construct -- disembodied agents of intention negotiating and acting -- is representative democracy. It's a much less efficient transmission of intention, but we invest our intent in our representatives via elections.



Very interesting post. While I would enjoy jibber jabbering about this with you over a long conversation and a pitcher of beer, I only want to provide one brief thought here. Since my thinking on these topics is always heavily influenced by McLuhan, I'll simply bring him in the conversation below. As you will see, this is pertinent to your first response to Heather. McLuhan would suggest that since every medium is indeed an "extension of self," you need to see it less as a tool and more of a prosthetic that ontologically becomes part of you and you it (i.e., it is not a tool; once it becomes dominant in a culture, it affects everyone whether used or not. The logic of TV culture, or internet culture, drives thinking so that even those who don't watch tv or don't use the internet are forced to operate under a logic shared by others). The point, in short, is that you cannot separate the tool from the user after awhile.

The following is from p. 11 of McLuhan's "Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man." Any google search of "McLuhan Sarnoff" will bring it up:

In accepting an honorary degree from the University of Notre Dame a few years ago, General David Sarnoff made this statement: "We are too prone to make technological instruments the scapegoats for the sins of those who wield them. The products of modern science are not in themselves good or bad; it is the way they are used that determines their value." That is the voice of the current somnambulism. Suppose we were to say, "Apple pie is in itself neither good nor bad; it is the way it is used that determines its value." Or, "The smallpox virus is in itself neither good nor bad; it is the way it is used that determines its value." Again, "Firearms are in themselves neither good nor bad; it is the way they are used that determines their value." That is, if the slugs reach the right people firearms are good. If the TV tube fires the right ammunition at the right people it is good. I am not being perverse. There is simply nothing in the Sarnoff statement that will bear scrutiny, for it ignores the nature of the medium, of any and all media, in the true Narcissus style of one hypnotized by the amputation and extension of his own being in a new technical form. General Sarnoff went on to explain his attitude to the technology of print, saying that it was true that print caused much trash to circulate, but it had also disseminated the Bible and the thoughts of seers and philosophers. It has never occurred to General Sarnoff that any technology could do anything but add itself on to what we already are.


Yes, brilliant. I absolutely agree. Thank you.


Along those lines, these are Dave Weinberger's selections for video of the year. This first one, made by a Kansas State anthropology professor, makes some excellent points that connect to this post: "...with every post or photo we tag... we are teaching the machine... the machine... is us..."


Mitchell Davis

A good chance to post one of my heroes, Terrence McKenna speaking about intelligent machines and shamanism. This dude has made me smile for years and is a real inspiration. This is an art video with Terrence speaking in the background.



Dan: "What I expect to encounter, however, are intelligent agents that I will trust to select and organize information on my behalf."

Cool, can we call them journalists? I mean, how intelligent would they really have to be to qualify?


How intelligent do you have to be to qualify as a journalist? Oh, about as intelligent as your average commissioned officer .

All witty banter aside, the joke misses the point: Journalists never really did work for YOU, individually. If they ever worked for you, it was the collective "YOU", and since you didn't sign their paychecks, that was never more than abstract, anyway.

The evolution of search moves from the ability to find links when you're thinking about a subject to the ability to have things that would interest you brought to you without your feedback. If you don't like the outcome, you reprogram the agent or acquire a new one.

Which means no more kvetching about "the media" because you'll control the mediation between yourself and the information.

Or something like that.


Except that the agent won't be "working" for you either. Unless you can write your own intelligent agent with the knowledge needed to access the proprietary information infrastructure, the intelligent agent will actually be a Google agent or Amazon agent or some such that you'll provide attributes to personalize it.

In that sense, the intelligent agent (a cyber-prosthetic) is not much different than your cell phone or GPS and subject to the same infrastructural bias.

Being able to acquire a new agent is no different than switching stations or subscriptions.

re: journalist v. "average commissioned officer"

Who Do You Trust More: G.I. Joe or A.I. Joe?

In fact, the plan, Future Combat Systems, was first dreamed up years ago. Its designers envisioned a 21st-century fighting force of automated tanks, helicopters and planes, remote missile launchers and even troops of robot soldiers - all coordinated by a self-configuring network of satellites, sensors and supercomputers. A way to get the human out of the loop.
If that's all it takes, journalists are screwed and people will still complain about their agents.


The notion that "journalists are screwed" is pretty much stipulated around here now. At least "journalist" as formerly constituted.

And good point about the agent working for the maker. This is where we're already experiencing friction. However, as informatics becomes more widely understood and the Semantic Web becomes more standardized, I expect to see more options emerge. Who would have predicted Open Source would become what it is? Hell, if I were the Electronic Frontier Foundation, I'd be interested in developing these kinds of tools with various privacy protections as a way to raise cash for the organization.

Just musing.


re: "Journalists never really did work for YOU, individually. If they ever worked for you, it was the collective "YOU", and since you didn't sign their paychecks, that was never more than abstract, anyway."

I refer you back to your previous comment and Jay Rosen's essay: Bush to Press: "You're Assuming That You Represent the Public. I Don't Accept That."

re: "However, as informatics becomes more widely understood and the Semantic Web becomes more standardized, I expect to see more options emerge."

OK. Can I ask you to consider not only what it means to be able to more directly and efficiently impose your "self" onto your cyber-representative within your construct, but what effect that has on representation as you scale up?

If you're willing to think about that, would you re-read Andy's Field Theory?

You might also enjoy reading Mind Versus Computer: Were Dreyfus and Winograd Right?

When the pragmatic use of the noetic field becomes routine mankind will have witnessed the greatest epistemological transformation in his history. One might wonder if man will still be man; or if the evolution of consciousness will at that point crossed into the dawn of a new species?


re: McLuhan ... adding without contradicting

"Things I Used to Teach That I No Longer Believe" Was the Title of the Panel...

When I started I would commonly say to students, “it’s not the content, it’s the form.” (Or: the medium is the message!) I thought this was very wise. Then I learned that content is king, sort of an opposite lesson, and it seemed wise for its time too. Now I don’t see either statement as useful or wise. To figure out when content is king you don’t need slogans like “content is king.” They hurt more than they help.


William Gibson, Dec. 29.


I so love comments on your posts, darling. Absolutely revelatory.

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